Lucas Radebe: The Games That Changed My Life

"Howard Wilkinson got me to play on the wing. I’ve no idea why, because I wasn’t a winger – or even that fast," the South Africa and Leeds legend recalls in his career-defining matches

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January 13, 1991: Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates, game abandoned

The Soweto Derby is a great game to play in and means so much to the people. Unfortunately, the game I remember most was for the wrong reasons – 42 people were killed. It was held at the Orkney Stadium and about 10,000 too many fans got in. There was a terrible crush. We saw bodies everywhere, including children.

It was very upsetting. It changed my life because I thought: 'We have to look after the supporters better'. I’ve always tried to be good to fans ever since, and give them my time.

September 26, 1994: Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Leeds

On my debut for Leeds, my manager Howard Wilkinson got me to play on the wing. I’ve no idea why, because I wasn’t a winger or even that fast! It was strange and I kept cutting inside. The English game was so quick compared to what I was used to, and it was pretty difficult for me.

But the atmosphere was fantastic and I knew I was going to enjoy playing in England – as long as I could play in my proper position...

February 3, 1996: South Africa 2-0 Tunisia 

Returning to international football in 1992 after apartheid was fantastic, and our greatest moment was winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. The side had developed together for a long time and we’d had some bad results. Winning the tournament was the making of us – Bafana Bafana were national heroes.

We beat Tunisia in the final at Soccer City and the atmosphere was incredible. We met Madiba [Nelson Mandela] before the game, which was inspiring, and a lot of the nation’s cricket and rugby stars were there. It brought the country together.

April 14, 1996: Manchester United 1-0 Leeds 

Our goalkeeper, Mark Beeney, was sent off after 16 minutes at Old Trafford, and Howard Wilkinson never picked a sub keeper. I used to like messing around in goal during training, so I found a green shirt thrown over my head. I ended up playing a good game. I made two great saves, one from Ryan Giggs and one from Brian McClair, but Roy Keane eventually scored.

At the end, I got clapped by some Manchester United fans – quite something for a Leeds player!

December 9, 1999: Leeds 1-0 Spartak Moscow 

We’d lost 2-1 in Moscow, so we knew a 1-0 home win would get us through to the next round of the UEFA Cup. It was a tight game and with five minutes left we were pushing for a goal. I came up for a corner right at the end and I met Stephen McPhail’s cross to get the winner.

I didn’t score many, and I can still replay that moment in slow-mo. Elland Road erupted. It was a career highlight – I enjoyed my time there so much.

This interview originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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